Taking in Client Feedback

I like to think that I welcome client feedback. I pride myself on being someone who can take in feedback without getting (too) defensive. In my intakes I always tell clients to please let me know if something I do doesn’t feel good or right to them. But when it actually happens – whew, it can be hard to take in.

When I stop and think about it, I rarely get client feedback that I really need to take all the way in to my inner core and process. If a client gives us feedback like, “I don’t think we need to talk about our feelings, she just needs to stop being so needy,” or “It’s not helpful to go through our cycle, he just needs to stop drinking,” we take that in only somewhat. I want to process that, and validate that, but I don’t take it all the way in because I know we do have to do those things in order to help them heal.

But sometimes there is feedback I need to take in all the way. And it’s difficult. I think the Johari Window, developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, might be helpful in explaining what I mean. Do you guys remember that from grad school? I love the simplicity and visual of the Johari Window.


Square One: Known to Self, Known to Others

If a client gives me feedback on something like, “you validate a lot,” that’s something I know about myself. I can process that with them, and understand why that’s upsetting to them. But I know why I do that and I’ve chosen to keep that part of me. I can tweak it a little per client, but ultimately I know if that truly doesn’t work for someone they would need to find someone else, because I am ok with that part of myself being there and I find it effective in my work.

Square Two: Known to Others, Not Known to Self - “The Blind Spot”

OOoo, this is the hard one. This is the one where when I get feedback here, it hurts, and I need to spend time processing it. I’ll expand more on this below.

Square Three: Known to Self, Not Known to Others – “Private Space”

This would mean something I would be uncomfortable about if a client knew, but it would be unusual if a client found out parts of myself I want to keep private. I don’t see this as an area for feedback, so much as just information about myself I’d want to keep private.

Square Four:  Not Known to Self, Not Known to Others

This one is the truly hidden part, that hopefully gets smaller the older we get. Sometimes this would get smaller because I realize something about myself, and sometimes it happens from another person commenting on something about me, but I see this as the burgeoning awareness part. Neither me nor someone else is really sure about it, so it is either not seen or tentatively seen.

The toughest feedback for me to receive comes from the second window. When someone else knows something about me, or sees me in a certain way, but I don’t realize that part of myself or my work, and it can be quite painful to get feedback here. This week, a client I adore gave me some feedback. I have been working with her and her partner for about a year, and our work is not re-bonding them. Currently, one is deciding to separate.

The client told me, in such a lovely way, that she felt although learning about their cycle was very helpful, they wished they had been having the really hard conversations about the reality of how they each felt all along. Meaning the real conversations about one partner leaning out of the relationship.

Wow, guys, this hit me like a ton of bricks. Because I knew she was right, exactly in that moment, and I hadn’t seen that before. And because they are separating so now I have the added component of feeling like they spent a lot of time and money on me and I did not help them.

Truthfully, I don’t think anything I did would have altered the leaning out partner’s feelings. I have come to this conclusion after 85 hours of non-stop anxiety processing. But I think my client’s feedback is right on, and I want to take that in and help it change my work.  And it’s hard. It’s hard to come face to face with something I didn’t see before that has negatively impacted someone. And honestly, I get kind of afraid. What would this mean if I accepted this and admitted this? Would my clients see me as a terrible therapist? Could I get sued? (this is always my panic place I go to). How do I apologize for this?

Right now, especially with a lot of the survivors of sexual harassment coming forward, our news feed is absolutely swimming in these awful non-apologies. You know the ones, like, “If I did that, that would be regrettable,” or “I didn’t realize at the time how that would come across,” or “if they took it that way, I apologize.” So these are nothing, and no one feels better hearing them. 

But I also get the fear behind the full acceptance apology. What will happen to me if I accept and apologize for this? So I tried very hard to do something different when my client brought this to me. I said, “that is very important feedback for me, and I think you’re right. I am sorry.”

And it sucks. It sucks to sit with this. I wish I had helped them more, and this is the reality of having to learn with/on clients along the way.


Luft, J.; Ingham, H. (1955). "The Johari window, a graphic model of interpersonal awareness". Proceedings of the western training laboratory in group development. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles. Retrieved from https://www.accipio.com/eleadership/mod/wiki/view.php?id=1832